The Platform, Part IV – Environment and Infrastructure, Section A

Section A (again)[1]

How often do you hear “one thing leads to another” or it’s slightly cruder version “it’s just one damned thing after another!” That’s the way life seems: we just have to deal with one challenge or opportunity after another and hope our planning and preparation are sound enough to handle it.

The problem, of course, is that it’s not really the way life works today in the Connected Age. All too often, it’s really a bunch of “damned things” all happening at the same time!

Life in America is really about dealing with a lot of things that not only appear to happen at the same time, but also the many things that interact with each other. These interactions typically affect the outcomes of the other events that happen – some scientists call that complexity.

Whatever you call it, it makes anticipation and prediction pretty tough. That’s probably why Yogi Berra said that prediction is always tough, particularly when it’s about the future. Interaction of these “damned things” make it hard to understand what’s happening and what it means for the future. Nowhere is that truer than in trying to understand how people and ecosystems interact and what the consequences will be.

And, the modified “old adage” is really true when we try to understand how our environment and the infrastructure we’ve designed should Environment and Infrastructurework together. The intersection of the environment and our infrastructure in America is its own ecosystem. This merged ecosystem is perhaps the most potentially productive “system of systems” we have for progress in America: Mother Nature provides the one, and we provide the other.

Sustaining the Platform: Balance

This next topic in the FAPTICA platform deals with one of the richest and most difficult interactions we have to face in modern times: the interaction of our environment and our American infrastructure, as well as what it means to our quality of life and our future as a nation.

Just think about it: America is a complex ecosystem of diverse, interacting parts…it’s truly a lot of things all happening at the same time. An ecosystem works because it has interdependent parts that actually get along with each other well enough to produce growth and sustainment, even in the face of apparently simultaneous and self-serving actions.

Life works like that in culture, politics and families, too. As Americans, however, we’re failing more and more to get our “parts” working together enough to survive and grow. Good growth requires balance.

Throughout the FAPTICA effort, we’ve emphasized how important balance has been to our past successes as a nation and to our future. We need balance in our culture, society and political system…balance that helps to heal disconnects between our habitats, our societal dysfunctions and the environment in which we live on this world.

Ecosystems find this balance somehow or they perish. The ecosystem of environment and infrastructure sustain a working balance, or they would if we don’t ignore or abuse them. Today, the American ecosystem is losing its balance in so many ways that it’s getting harder and harder for us to find a common path to the future that all of our age groups can appreciate and in which they can find hope and mutual support. Protecting our environment and nurturing our infrastructure…keeping them in balance…builds that path to the future.

If you’re looking for a prime example of how our balance is off-kilter, think about what we call habitats, more specifically human habitats. This means where we live, raise our families, participate in our communities, find inspiration, and make a living. All of these things are part of our habitat.

As Americans we are squeaking by, some better than others, but the sad thing is that we probably know more about (or at least agree on) the habitat needs of white-tailed deer or horseshoe crabs than we do about human habitats. At this point in our American story, we seem to ignore our own habitat needs just as we ignore the environment and neglect our infrastructure.

Thinking a little more about human habitat, suppose you could “ask” a deer or any other living thing, (metaphorically speaking, of course) if living in an apartment surrounded by concrete on a busy highway is a good habitat. Apart from it being the only affordable place available, why we would we do this to ourselves? If deer could talk, surely they’d tell us “Don’t live like that – take better care of yourself, your family and the world that sustains us all!” If you forced a deer to live in that kind of hardscrabble setting, it would almost certainly suffer a premature death after experiencing significant dysfunction—stress, illness, malnutrition, etc. Oh wait – that’s what happens to people!

Unfortunately, humans often ignore their instincts and create and live in unfavorable habitats that fail to tap the promise of effectively synergizing our environment and infrastructure. Humans too can suffer a premature death after experiencing significant dysfunction—stress, illness, obesity, malnutrition, depression, chemical dependencies, family strife, crime…the list goes on. More and more it appears our habitats contribute to many of our leading societal ills, including political and societal woes.

Jan Hauser, a long-time consultant to FAPITCA notes “where we live, how we live, and what we demand creates situations of such complexity that any single set of rules will not suffice, and understanding what the key important factors are creates what is all too often a daunting problem.” Complexity scientists, such as previously quoted Harold Morowitz, might say “this is due to the complex and dynamical nature of various environmental factors and the complexity of adaptive bio-systems,” Jan points out. We’ll return in the future to this concept of a multiple “set of rules” since it also addresses the idea of sustainability and access to opportunity.[2]

Jan also adds that “much lip service has been given to ‘sustainability’ or ‘sustainable communities,’ but often times when we take a closer look, we find “greenwashing” or improvised models which omit or obscure important shortfalls.” Such shortfalls, Jan says “are usually a product of good human intentions, but are often incorrect due to a natural tendency for our typical thought patterns to unwittingly have many misrepresentations, omissions, and errors.”

Bottom line: the interaction of our environment and our infrastructure sustain the American society and our failure to recognize this and make good long-term decisions to correct our shortfalls practically ensure we will lose balance in America. We’ll also talk more about contemporary ideas on decision-making as a function of maintaining balance and creating opportunity in the near future.

As with many problems we identify and propose as “critical” in FAPITCA, this challenge of balancing the protection of the environment with the need to generate and sustain infrastructure creates tough, tough narratives to understand yet alone resolve. In our next installment of this two-part post on “The Platform, Part IV – Environment and Infrastructure,” we’ll begin to look at how our recent history offers insights into approaching ways to leverage and protect the synergies we seek between environment and infrastructure in America. Until next time…

Originally posted by Carl and Chuck Hunt, 6/27/2014.

Notes:

[1] Yes, this is another 2-parter! Several of the FAPITCA Platform proposals exceed the commonly accepted length of blog post of around 1000 words (okay, 800-1000 words! Of course, we routinely bust that limit…sorry!). Since we’ve been successful in getting some outside expertise in some of these pieces, we want to ensure we take the space necessary to express relevant and diverse thinking. In this piece, we welcome Carl’s friend Jan Hauser. Jan has been a long-time advocate for looking at the environment and infrastructure in a synergistic light. His background is in the footnote below.

[2] Jan Hauser is a pioneer of developing and applying science and technology to business, social and environmental problems. He was formerly a principal (technology) architect at Sun Microsystems and a visiting professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. Jan is also responsible for Sun Microsystems joining The Santa Fe Institute and has lectured at the Smithsonian Institution on “Complexity and Gaia” a topic closely related to this post. He periodically spends time working on the difficult and complex problems of “Global Sustainability” (see www.janhauser.com). Editor’s Note: speaking of the Naval Postgraduate School, these ideas about environment and infrastructure also reflect inspiration from the National Strategic Narrative, quoted previously in FAPITCA posts.

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